Gray


by
Litgal



Part Thirty-One

Xander watched through the window as an old truck pulled into the parking lot. Elizabeth glanced out and then an expression of pure relief crossed her face. “It’s Roy.”

“We have to get out of here. He’s a monster,” Martin shouted, fear in his voice.

“He’s no more monster than I am,” Spike said with a sort of malicious glee in his voice. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t calm him down any. Martin looked from one of them to another, panic growing as Elizabeth ran to the door. Whatever else he’d planned, he hadn’t wanted to hurt Elizabeth because he didn’t want her near this Benny.

Benny walked in the room. He was a nice looking man, thirties or forties with the gray just starting to show up in his neatly trimmed beard, and Xander didn’t get much chocolate smell from him. He did, however, see an image of Benny with a mouthful of teeth superimposed over the normal guy who stood there in a dark coat. “Well now, isn’t this a proper meeting. Lizzy, are you okay?” Benny moved to stand between her and the rest of them.

“I’m fine, but these two seemed to think that you wouldn’t want the cops called.”

“Is that so?” Benny eyed them before looking at Martin. “You. You come near her again, and you ain’t likely to survive, understand?” While Xander had always thought of a southern accent as sounding friendly, that was not so much the case here. Benny was pissed.

Martin paled, but Spike just sat there like nothing was being said.

“Roy, don’t say that,” Elizabeth grabbed his arm, and Xander could see Benny back down immediately.

“I don’t want him threatening you,” he said apologetically.

“I don’t either. I wanted to call the police and have them pick him up, but these two talked like they knew you and knew you wouldn’t want the police involved.”

Benny eyed them. “Did they now?” He drew himself up and stepped in front of Elizabeth again. “Well then, let’s the four of us take this conversation elsewhere.” He steeled himself, and Xander could see that he was calculating the odds of taking on three people, and he didn’t like them.

“Roy, what’s going on?” Elizabeth demanded. She stepped out from behind him, hands on her hips.

“Don’t worry, Lizzie. We’re going to take this elsewhere.” Benny kept his eyes on Spike. Xander would have been offended, but Spike did look way more threatening.

“No, you’re going to tell me what these people are talking about. Are you in trouble with the law?”

Benny laughed. It was a quick sound, as if the laugh had slipped out when he wasn’t being careful enough. “Now cher, don’t you worry none.” He started backing away from the door, gesturing toward it with his head as he carefully backed Elizabeth up toward the counter. “After you folks,” he said, his voice full of a stuffy sort of politeness. He was planning on either killing someone or being killed. From the way Martin had lost every bit of color out of his face, he was thinking the same.

“It isn’t nice to leave her in the dark,” Xander blurted out. He had to because Spike wasn’t stepping up and saying anything.

“This ain’t got nothing to do with her.”

Xander watched Elizabeth’s frustrated struggle to not get pushed away. She was shoving at his back, but he kept right on pushing. Xander knew how it felt—being the normal one who was never trusted to be part of the fight. And yeah, his girls were generally good with not totally emasculating him, but still. And was it still called emasculating when you did that to a woman? Clearly it was something because Elizabeth was huge with the unhappy.

“Doesn’t she have a right to know?” Xander asked. “I mean, you’re here in the middle of her café, shouldn’t she know about the potential for badness?”

“I got no beef with you. You got no beef with me,” Benny said. “So we can take this outside or you can leave, it makes no difference to me.”

“What badness?” Elizabeth demanded.

“I’d never hurt you, Lizzy,” Benny said, turning to reassure her.

That’s when Martin decided to get back into the conversation. “He won't feed off his own flesh and blood, he’ll just kill others. Innocents. Tell her, Benny. Tell her how you're her long-lost grandpappy. Tell her about all the dead you left behind. Tell her about the monster that you are!”

Benny looked panicked at that revelation, but Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Would you stop? How did they ever let you out of that asylum if that’s how you talk to people?”

“Maybe you should tell her the truth,” Spike commented.

Benny clenched his fists at his side.

Elizabeth put a hand on his arm. “Roy… Benny… whoever you really are, you know you can trust me.”

“I won’t put you in danger,” Benny said gently.

Xander snorted. He didn’t mean to make it a loud snort, but it kind of came out that way. Benny turned and glared, and Xander could feel the danger swirling in the room, and for the first time in his life, he wasn’t scared of the thought of someone trying to kill him. Xander could handle Benny.

“Not telling people the truth is kind of shitty,” Xander said. “Back when I was the normal, clueless one, I didn’t appreciate it much, and it didn’t actually keep me safe. It just put me in danger because I didn’t know how to protect myself.”

“I never put Lizzy in danger,” Benny snarled. He took a step closer, and then tensed up when Elizabeth took the opportunity to follow him.

“So, none of your enemies ever followed you here?” Xander asked. “No hunters ever came looking? Newsflash.”

“She’s not part of that.”

“She’s here,” Xander shouted over Benny when he tried defending himself. “Just like I was there and Jesse and Willow were there, only no one told us and one of us died because of that. One of us died because we didn’t know what went bump in the night, and the people who did know thought that…” Xander waved his hand. “I don’t know what they thought.”

“That it was a fight between good and evil, and any peons who got caught in between weren’t worth bothering about,” Spike offered.

“Great. And sadly, he’s probably right,” Xander said. He rubbed a hand over his face and tried to get control of his rising anger before he said something stupid. If they wanted to find and help Dean, pissing off the guy who knew where Dean was wouldn’t help, and according to Martin, Benny and Dean had been to purgatory together. Xander felt a little twinge of homesickness at the thought of purgatory.

“You brought up some good points, so why don’t we all just leave?” Benny offered.

“Right, because there isn’t any danger, not with hunters and vampires wandering around, and more likely to come, and then there’s the fact that innocent people never die. No one would ever take some kid who didn’t know anything and turn him.” For just a second, Xander closed his eyes. “I can’t bring Jesse back, but maybe if we’d known the truth, he would have had a chance.”

“Vampires?” Elizabeth started backing away. Yep, she was definitely putting Xander in the crazy-category now. And normally Xander could show off his stuff. He could change hair color and skin color. He could make his eyes all blue or just give himself normal-looking green eyes. But he was too tired for that, and this wasn’t the conversation he’d intended to have.

“Spike?” Xander asked.

Spike pursed his lips and looked at him for a second before nodding. “Keep in mind that I’m not a danger to you,” Spike told Elizabeth, and then he vamped out. The ridges on his nose and forehead and the yellow eyes were impressive enough, but Spike snarled, showing off two impressive fangs.

Benny, however, looked more concerned than ever. “What are you?” he demanded as he stepped forward.

Spike went back into his human face and shrugged. “A different sort of vampire from you.”

“I’ve never seen…” Benny let his voice trail off and then he turned to look at Elizabeth.

“She deserves the truth,” Xander said. “She was loyal to you to the end. And you need to listen to the whole story,” Xander said to Elizabeth. “Because being non-human does not make a person automatically evil. But having everyone expect you to be evil, and getting treated all the time like you’re evil and you can’t be anything better, and then getting chased away whenever you do try to have a quiet life… that’s enough to make a person evil.”

“Pet, some monsters are created evil,” Spike said softly.

“Not as many as people assume,” Xander said. He hated that when he’d first woken up in Willow’s big secret base, people assumed he was some people-eating creature of evil. Yeah, he could eat people, but he tried to avoid it.

Elizabeth was too busy staring at all of them to answer. She backed up to the counter and grabbed the edge, although Xander wasn’t sure if disbelief or fear or shock was the main reason, and reading her thoughts seemed a little rude.

“Lizzy,” Benny said softly. “I never wanted you at risk. I just checked in to see that you were okay, to pay my respects. You needed help…” His words failed him.

“You mean… they’re right?” She shook her head.

“He’s a monster. I told you,” Martin shouted and Spike brought up the back of his hand in a viper-fast move. One punch to the nose, and Martin was too busy clutching his own face in pain to really participate in the conversation.

“I died a good long time ago,” Benny confessed.

“Only not died as much as changed,” Xander added.

“Pet,” Spike said, “shut it.”

“Right, shutting it now,” Xander agreed.

“Oh my god.” Elizabeth sank down onto one of the stools, but she wasn’t running away and screaming, which was a plus. “Are you really family?”

Benny paused before nodding.

Elizabeth ran her fingers through her hair and looked around the room wildly. Maybe she was waiting for the cameras and the person who would yell “Candid Camera.”

“I never meant to hurt you.” Benny shifted closer to Elizabeth, and he was still keeping himself between her and everyone else.

“That one… he said you’d killed people.”

Benny took a long time to answer that one, and Martin made a quiet little squeak that made Xander think that Spike had just made another point about being quiet.

“I did,” Benny finally admitted. “I’ve done plenty of wrong in my life, which is why I always avoided coming home.”

“And you came home because…” Elizabeth sat up and looked Benny right in the eye.

“I’m just trying to blend in, find a place where have a quiet life. This one,” Benny poked a thumb in Martin’s direction, “thought I’d started killing again, but I ain’t killed a human in going on fifty or sixty years. That was the work of a youngster trying to crew up a new nest.”

Martin mumbled something, but he kept it quiet enough that neither Benny nor Elizabeth paid him any attention.

“Is he gone now?”

“Me and Dean took care of it,” Benny said, “so as soon as I leave, there’s no one left to bother you.”

“Leave?” Elizabeth sat up. “And go where?”

Benny stared at her, and she started to shake her head. “No, this is your home. You can’t walk away because someone from an insane asylum showed up at the café. I’ve been held up by people who scared me more than him and his machete, and I didn’t back down to them.”

“You don’t want me—”

“You’re family. I like you better than most of my family, and other than my habit of underpaying you for the work you do around here, there’s nothing nefarious going on.”

Xander could see Benny getting frustrated. He stood up, ignoring the furious expression from Spike. Spike could babysit crazy guy—Xander was going to have his say.

“I’ve only been unhuman for a couple of months—” Xander started, but Elizabeth interrupted him.

“What are you?”

Xander opened his mouth and closed it again without answering. He could see Elizabeth’s frustration rise, and he held up his hand. “No, I’m not refusing to tell you. I just don’t actually know. Mostly I just see ghosts, but I’ve got this really neat trick where I can turn my hair green by thinking about it.

“You’re a witch?” Elizabeth sounded unsure about that.

“Okay, I don’t know what I am, but I definitely know I’m not a witch,” Xander said, “but my point is that I was pretty much pure human until a couple of months ago, and that didn’t keep me from doing what was right. Benny, you can leave, but you can’t make it so that Elizabeth doesn’t know the truth. Well, you could, but that sort of mind-wiping mojo is hugely with the bad and likely to backfire.” Xander sighed as he realized he was totally losing his point in all the words.

“I won’t put her in danger,” Benny said, an edge to his voice that made it clear he’d fight Xander if that’s what he needed to do to keep her safe.

“Right, because you can protect her from everything, especially when she doesn’t know anything. How can she tell a werewolf from a vampire? What does she do if someone has put a spell on her? Don’t you think she needs to know these things?”

“No,” Benny said firmly.

“Excuse me?” Elizabeth demanded, and for a second, Xander would have sworn she was channeling Joyce.

“I’ll leave. You won’t be bothered anymore, Lizzy.”

“And do all the people Sam and Dean save know about the supernatural? Do creatures stick to hunting people who know about them?” Xander demanded.

“Boy’s got a point,” Spike offered.

“What do you two want?” Benny demanded. The question caught Xander so off-guard that for a second, he couldn’t remember, and Spike wasn’t much help, he just looked at Xander.

“We wanted to meet Sam and Dean and introduce them to some people who would help so they weren’t trying to hunt alone,” Xander said, “and to make my point, both of them are human. Human is not weak. Well, okay, it’s physically weak, but that doesn’t mean that humans can’t defend themselves.”

“You want to meet them?” Benny was huge with the not believing.

“Let’s go back to this part where you’re leaving and you don’t plan on telling me anything,” Elizabeth said dryly.

“Lizzy,” he said wearily.

“Oh no. Do not give me that tone of voice.”

“Give it up, mate,” Spike suggested as he stood up, pulling Martin with him. “When someone you love gives you that look, you’re a lost cause. It’s just better to lay down and admit to being love’s bitch before love kicks you in the bollocks. Now, why don’t you give the Winchesters a call and ask them to pick up their little friend.”

“Me? You’re taking me?” Martin seemed to lose the rest of his color.

“Bloody hell, wot? You think I’m going to leave you here and let you take another shot at those two? You really are ‘round the twist.”

“He won’t kill you,” Xander promised as he gave Spike a nasty glare. Yes, Martin was annoying and slightly bad guyish, but that was more ignorance than evil. And possibly some mental instability to boot.

“See?” Spike told Benny, “they get that tone of voice going, and it’s easier to just give in. Of course, in my case, I can take the boy home and gag him if he talks too much. Time to go, Harris.”

“What did you say?” Xander asked.

“Move your arse, that’s what I said.” Spike dragged Martin toward the door.

“They’re going to kill me. You have to stop them,” Martin cried out.

“He’s the one you came to kill, idiot,” Spike complained before he shoved him out into the night. Xander gave Elizabeth and Benny another look, but he’s seen that face often enough to know what it meant—that was Joyce’s patented “you are going to tell me everything” face.

“We aren’t going to hurt him,” Xander promised, “Dean and Sam can have him back. And hopefully they can take him back to the hospital.” Xander darted out after Spike before Elizabeth could get cranky at him. That was one upset woman, and he did not envy Benny.

Part Thirty-Two

“Sam is going to kill you,” Martin said right before Spike shoved a sock in his mouth and then tied a strip of cloth around Martin’s head to hold it there. Xander sat at the edge of the bed and replayed the last part of the conversation with Benny in his head over and over. The L word had definitely gotten dropped. Hadn’t it?

Xander looked at Martin as he sat in the ugly chair next to the uglier table and wondered if this was a conversation he really wanted to have with crazy guy in the room. Probably not.

Martin reached up to pull the gag off, and Spike put a finger in his face. “Do and I’ll hogtie you,” he threatened.

“And that is not so much of a threat and more of a something he does a lot,” Xander offered. “Seriously, bugging the vampire—not a good idea.”

“Coming from you, that’s a bit of irony, innit?” Spike asked.

Xander made a face and looked over at Martin again. This really wasn’t a conversation for unfriendly ears. Sighing, Xander went with burning issue number two. “You know the Winchesters are going to come pretty quick.”

“Yeah, and?”

“And I am really not okay with them thinking we’re on different sides. You know how Buffy always seems to kill the monster of the week, well Dean and Sam sort of have that same reputation,” Xander pointed out. “I really wish this Buffy was like our Buffy because Buffy and Dean—that is a pairing to make all evil doers quake in their boots.”

“Why are you assuming she’s not like out Buffy?” Spike pulled the second chair away from the rickety table and put it in front of the door before sitting down.

“Because there are no slayers in this world.”

“And Red’s not a witch.”

Xander blinked. “I’m sorry, but did I miss some piece of logic that would make that statement logical?”

Spike sighed. “You said it yourself, pet. Red managed to land in the soup, even without the slaying and magic to pull her in. People aren’t so different. The other you was still her friend, still a nob.”

“And he died in an earthquake.” As far as Xander was concerned, that was about as different as it got. If Xander had one talent in the world, it was an amazing ability to stay alive when all the odds were against it.

“I thought we’d lost you on that last day,” Spike said.

“That’s rich coming from the guy who let himself get turned into a giant ball of flame to save the world.” Xander felt a twinge of anxiety even thinking about it. If someone had to volunteer to be the Molotov cocktail, he would have volunteered Angel for the job. “I was never in danger.”

Spike gave him an incredulous look.

“Much,” Xander amended himself. “But still, Buffy is still in LA, which implies a lack of Buffster.”

“And Red went to Europe for schoolin’ and still ended up doing pretty much what she does in our world.”

Xander frowned. “Cast spells?” The second the words were out his mouth, Xander cringed.

Yep, that was a Spike smirk right on schedule. “This Red really doesn’t cast spells, but then maybe that’s because she hasn’t met Tara.”

Xander wrinkled his nose up. “Wait, if people here are mirrors of people in our world, what about Tara and her family?”

“I already checked before I sprung you from Rupert’s place. She walked out on her family and hasn’t shown up again. She’s a bright one, so she’s in hiding somewhere. But even if this Red has a few more hangups than ours, she’s still using that big brain of hers to support the frontline fighters,” Spike pointed out.

“Oh.” Xander knew that. Actually, he really did know that because he’d even thought it was a little funny the way Willow had taken a completely different path to pretty much the same place. “But Buffy can’t be the same. She’s human here.”

“And you just made an almost coherent argument that human doesn’t mean weak. Bloody hell, do you even listen to what comes out your mouth or is all your logic based on what you feel in that second as opposed to actual logic?”

“I refuse to answer on the grounds that I might make myself look more stupid than usual.”

Spike rolled his eyes, but at least he didn’t make fun of Xander. For a time, they sat in silent. Xander played with the bottom of his shirt, and kept going into his visions. Either Martin was in need of more psychotherapy than any dozen people should need or he had the crappiest life in the history of living. Well maybe the third worst because Sam and Dean pretty much had one and two “Did you check to see how the other you died, Harris?”

Xander shrugged. “In an earthquake.”

“He was last seen running toward a sinkhole to save some random chit. The girl got out, Harris didn’t. That Alexander Harris might not have been as strong or trained long enough to get his arse out of trouble, but he had your same knack for getting into it. Stupid git was brave enough to put other people ahead of himself. He was probably just as big of a knobhead.”

“Gee, thanks,” Xander said dryly. Even when Spike was complimenting him, it came out sounding a lot like an insult. “But do you really think we should look up Buffy?”

Spike shrugged. “I never said that.”

“Yes you did. You just said she might be a fighter, even if she’s not a slayer.”

Spike propped his boot up on the end of the bed. “And what in that suggests we should go find her?”

Xander frowned. “Isn’t that a given?”

“Nope.”

“But she—”

“Has her own life, same as Red, same as Benny, same as Dorsey and every other poor sap we’re pulling into this.”

“So we shouldn’t be talking to anyone, is that what you’re saying?” Xander demanded.

“Watch the tone, pet,” Spike warned, yellow bleeding into his eyes.

Xander almost exploded, but if he did, he would definitely be gagged when the Winchesters showed up, and that would not be of the good. Xander took a deep breath and started again. “Spike, exactly what are you saying we should do about Buffy?”

Spike shrugged. “Like I told you, pet, when you live as long as we do, you learn to do what you like. I’m not saying we find her, and I’m not saying we don’t. I’m saying that both are choices. You run around acting like we have to do one thing or another. We don’t.”

“So, you don’t mind if we do go and see her.” Xander was officially confused.

Spike shrugged. “It’s as good a place to go as any, but it’s a choice, pet. Stop acting like the universe is pushing you around and start taking control. You are choosing to meddle in people’s lives. You. You’re standing up and saying that the darkness has gone too far. There’s no great force that making you stand up against that darkness. We could just as well steal enough dosh to ride this out in a little apartment with a big telly. So you take control here.”

“You mean so you can take the control away from me again?” Xander asked.

Spike’s lip twitched. “Right then, it might be that I enjoy knowing that I can hogtie you and stuff your mouth full when you get too big for your britches.”

“I noticed.” Xander reached up and tugged on the collar locked around his neck.

Spike’s smile softened. “But that doesn’t mean that you’re some helpless waif wandering from one point to another. Finding the Winchesters is a choice, not some piece of bloody destiny you’re fulfilling.”

Xander grimaced. Okay, so fulfilling destiny sucked, and being one of Buffy’s best friends, Xander understood that better than most people, although her destiny would have been significantly less sucky without the Watchers. Or the other Watchers, anyway, because Giles had helped keep them all alive. However, Xander didn’t like the idea of being destinyless. He wanted to have some purpose, and he really didn’t want that purpose to be spawning demons.

Spike leaned forward on the chair. “You always feel it, don’t you?”

“Feel what?” Xander asked.

“Don’t rightly know.” Spike leaned back. “When I first started coming ‘round, I thought you were always trying to prove that you had balls enough to run with the others. But the more I found out about you, the more it seemed like you had more than that in your mind. You faced off against Angel and Angelus. Hell, you went up against bloody gods, and no one does that just to prove they have the wrinklies to do it. I don’t know what it is that makes you run around and gather up all your mates, but you do. Let the world finally feel safe, and you run off to Africa to gather up more slayers. You don’t know how to stop, do you?”

“What?” Xander’s brain was like a little gerbil caught on a turbo powered wheel with no exit. “You’re making me sound a little obsessive.”

“If the shoe fits…” Spike said with a snort.

“I don’t have to do anything.”

Spike pursed his lips.

“I don’t. I just don’t see why people shouldn’t work together. Like Giles, I mean our Giles, when he first came to Sunnydale he was all about the one girl. One. Singular. He would have been happy if we had all left Buffy to fight alone. How does that make sense?”

“It doesn’t,” Spike agreed.

“Exactly. It’s not with the making sense. And Africa… Andrew was all about the bad infrastructure and lack of mass transportation and political instabilities. And hey, if there’s a confirmed report, they can teleport a team to a specific spot using magic. Do you know how many slayers he would have missed with his dumb ass plan?”

“Plenty.”

“Wait, what are we fighting about?”

Spike gave him one of those long-suffering looks and leaned back in his chair. “About you admitting that every one of those is a choice, luv. You chose to go to Africa—”

“Not really. If I didn’t, slayers would have died.”

“If you’d died in Sunnydale, do you think Andrew would have packed a bag and headed for the continent?”

“Fat chance,” Xander said. Maybe there was a little part of him that resented Andrew for replacing him as the goofy sidekick of the group, but a bigger part hated that Andrew never stood up and did the right thing—not until someone shoved his nose in it and made him.

“Exactly. You chose. If you want to go find Buffy and find out if she’s still the beautifully deadly creature she is in our world, we can. But it’s a choice. Bloody hell, pet, you’re annoying, intemperate, quick to condemn anyone who doesn’t fit into the world as you see it. You’re even giving Peaches a good run on the most annoying nit contest. But the one thing you always do right is choosing to put yourself out there in this quest to bring people together. Don’t dismiss your one good trait as some sort of biological imperative like breathin’.”

“My one… I only have one good trait?”

“That’s one more than Angel.” Spike’s smirk returned.

“And I don’t understand most of those insults. Your poet is showing.”

Spike shrugged. “Mostly they’re the same faults I have.”

“Wait. Are you saying you aren’t perfect?”

Spike started laughing. “I’m no more perfect than you are, Harris. I’m just better at not getting tied up on a regular basis.”

“Well then, that means I have two good traits.”

Spike raised an eyebrow at him.

“You really like tying me up, so my ability to get tied up would be a good thing from your point of view, so that makes a second good trait.”

Spike smiled. It was one of those small smiles that Xander rarely saw, and that particular expression warmed his heart.

“Well then, I guess you’re two up on the poof.”

“Yep,” Xander agreed. “Now, are we going to sleep in shifts or what? Xander could almost swear he felt the approaching sunrise in his bones. Either that or he was simply bone weary. Either way, he was definitely looking forward to some sleep.

“Considering that Benny is out there with some human, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“A human?” Xander got up and went to the window, pushing the heavy curtain aside to look out. “Is it Dean or Sam? It’s hard to tell because the covers made both of them look a little gay pornish, and Benny’s friend looks normal.”

“Gay pornish? What sort of porn have you been sneaking when no one is looking?” Spike asked with way too much amusement in his voice.

Xander could feel his face heat up. “It was purely accidental. I was looking for lesbian porn, Spike. Lesbian, as in two women. Double the boobies, double the fun.”

“Right,” Spike said.

“I clicked the wrong button.”

“Sure, luv.”

“I did. I wasn’t looking… oh thank God. They’re pulling out weapons and heading this way,” Xander said. Potential mayhem and violence for the save. What the hell had made him admit to watching gay porn? Xander definitely needed to check the verbal filter… assuming that he wasn’t dead after a visit from the Winchesters. As a member of a group of underdogs, Xander knew how sometimes the underdog could take out the most dangerous enemy.

Maybe Spike felt the same way because he pulled off his coat and flung it to the side before bouncing on his toes to loosen up. Show time.

Part Thirty-Three

Spike shoved Martin out the door in front of them. Martin's hands grabbed at Spike's coat, which seemed slightly on the stupid side. Then again, Xander used to do that a lot. He'd grab at someone he had absolutely no chance of actually beating in a fight. That's how he'd lost his eye.

"You lose this one?" Spike asked as the two guys stopped in the middle of the parking lot. Clearly they hadn’t expected Spike to come out to meet them, and Xander could see the wariness on Benny's face. The the other guy looked downright furious.

"Hand him over," the new guy ordered. Xander held his breath, afraid of what Spike might say.

Spike shrugged. "Okay." He gave Martin a push toward them. Martin's eyes got all big and for a second he seemed to forget to move. Then he scrambled toward the new guy, pulling the gag out of his mouth.

"Dean... Dean... he's a vampire. But I stabbed him with dead man's blood and it didn't stop him."

"Martin," Dean said slowly, "Long time no see. Oh, wait. Actually, it wasn't long enough. What are you thinking trying to hunt?"

Martin stopped, and Xander could almost taste the man's frustration. When Xander checked his visions, he could see dozens of monsters... dozens and dozens of them... all cringing away from Martin. Okay, that was creepy, especially since technically Xander was one of the monsters now. Still, Xander couldn’t help but feel a little sympathy. He’d been the totally human in a world full of people stronger than him.

"In his defense, he might have actually done it if it hadn't been for Spike overhearing him," Xander said in Martin's defense. Then he cringed as he looked at the thunderous expression on Benny's face. "Not that it would have been of the good, because killing a random person by threatening another random person is definitely bad, especially when one of the two people involved were human and kind of clueless."

"She was. She ain't no more, and I have you to thank for that," Benny said, and it was pretty clear he was using the word "thank" ironically.

“Um. You’re welcome?” Xander said. Spike gave a rough laugh.

“Now that we have a little more privacy, how about we have a conversation,” Benny suggested.

“And by conversation, he means we talk about all the reasons we have to cut your heads off,” Dean said with a scary sort of good humor.

“Way to be rude to the people who saved your friend,” Xander said, “not that I get the whole friendship because when I read about you, you were all ‘Oh Sam, all demons are evil. How can you sleep with a demon?’ And while I was on your side because Ruby was clearly on the creepy side, you were more about being closed minded. I was not really okay with that,” Xander said fiercely.

“You’re saying this is like Ruby? Really? And please tell me you didn’t read all that in those stupid books.”

“Um…” Xander made a face.

“Right then, don’t care,” Spike said. “You kill baddies, we came to offer a hand, this wanker was trying to kill someone, so we thought we’d do our good deed of the day.”

“You saved a vampire,” Martin screeched, and Dean winced, either from the sheer volume or from the reminder that he did seem to be siding with a vampire. After reading every single Supernatural story at least twice, Xander was pretty sure that was not Dean’s happy place.

“Martin, maybe you’d better wait in the car.”

“Oh, so you can leave me behind like Sam did?” He put his hands on his hips.

“If you’re in the car, I can’t leave without taking you with me,” Dean said in the sort of voice people usually reserved for crazy people and children they didn’t like.

Martin looked from Dean to Benny and back. Drawing himself upright, he announced. “I’m leaving town. And tell your brother that if he calls me again, he shouldn’t!” His back stiff with anger, Martin turned and stomped off toward the highway.

“You go near Lizzy, and I’ll gut ya and feed ya to the gators,” Benny called after him.

Martin turned, still walking backwards. “Don’t speak to me you foul hellbeast, you unholy thing.”

“Right, that doesn’t sound crazy, not at all,” Dean said wearily; however, he kept his eyes on Spike, and Xander was noticing a definitely lack of hands. Well, not lack as in Dean didn’t have them as much as Dean had his hands in the pockets of his jacket, which implied weaponry. “I’m so glad that Sam asked crazy guy to get involved.”

“Remind me to thank him right and proper,” Benny agreed. He kept watching as Martin reached the highway, looked both ways, and then picked a direction—seemingly at random. “Well, either he’s going to end up in the swamp or in Baton Rouge. As long as he stays away from me and mine, I don’t much care.”

Dean sighed. “I’ll pick him up on the road later. However, first thing’s first. So, someone needs to give me one good reason why I shouldn’t start hunting.”

“Because we haven’t done anything that would make hunting us anything other than murder?” Xander guessed.

“Right. You guys are those good vampires,” Dean said in a slightly sarcastic voice. “No offense,” he ten offered Benny.

“I ain’t so sure they’re vampires. They’re not like any vamps I ever met.”

“So they’re not vampirates?”

“Holy crap,” Xander blurted. “You’re a vampirate? Okay, there are extra cool points for that, and yeah, that probably puts you on the slay with prejudice list, but that’s a cool sort of slay-worthy.”

“Focus, nit,” Spike said, his hand tightening around Xander’s waist. “That one hasn’t had human blood in a good long time, so whatever he is, he’s not on the list of creatures to slay.”

“Slay? Okay, we’re going for the medieval theme? I can go with that. So, who gets to play the dragon and who plays the knight that chops it into little bits.”

Benny took a step forward, his gaze focused on Spike. “How about we stop talking about killing.”

“But I like talking about killing,” Dean objected, but then he fell silent.

“Benny Lafitte,” he said holding out his hand to Spike. “Died the first time going on a hundred years ago. Got sent to Purgatory in the 1960s, and caught a ride topside again a while back.”

Spike took his own step forward and took Benny’s hand. “Spike. I used to use a human name, but haven’t been human since the 1800s so I just go by Spike. Never went to Purgatory. Spent some time in hell, didn’t like it. Came back.” Spike shifted so that he was looking right at Dean. Oh yeah, Dean had done his time in hell. And as Xander remembered it, a good time was not had by all. Well, it sounded like Alistair had liked it, but mostly everyone else had been less than happy with the accomodations.

“Hell? Before you got turned?” Benny made the words sound friendly enough, but he shifted so that he was between Spike and Dean.

“Bloody hell no. I was too much of a ponce when I was human to qualify for hell. I got turned, earned my soul back, and then got sent to hell.”

“Your soul?” Benny narrowed his eyes.

“My type of vampire generally loses the soul. A demon comes in and drives the lorry. I earned mine back.”

“Which is why Spike is not on the slay-list,” Xander added. “And as an official ex-member of the ‘I hate all vampires club,’ membership of one, if I say Spike is a good guy now, you can believe it.”

Benny looked over at Dean. “I think that club has at least one more member.”

“He doesn’t understand,” Dean said. His gaze slipped over toward Benny for a fraction of a second before he returned to watching Spike and Xander. The wariness and weariness made Xander ache a little. With the first, they’d all been like that—they were all twitching at every sound and waiting for the First to kill them all. Some days, Xander had not even wanted to climb out of bed, much less strap on the weapons and go into one more fight. When they’d turned on Buffy, it’d been fatigue as much as fear that had driven them. And right now, Dean looked exhausted.

“Don’t seem like you’re making much of an effort to explain it,” Benny said, and the weariness was there too.

“Don’t know what you two are talking about, and I don’t soddin’ care,” Spike interrupted when the two of them looked like they might have a stare-down.

“We’re talking about Dean’s brother putting Lizzy in the firing line,” Benny said.

“What part of ‘don’t care’ did you miss?” Spike asked.

“He was doing what he thought was right.”

“Thought. That’d be the word. But thinking ain’t the same as being, Dean. He thought he did right, but that don’t me he really is right.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Spike snarled. “Dean’s not responsible for whatever his git of a brother did, and you let the bint wander through without telling her what she needed to know to defend herself.” Spike poked a finger at Benny.

Benny snarled, vicious teeth like piranha sprouting out of his gums. Maybe he thought that would intimidate, but Spike flashed into gameface and bared his fangs.

“Are you two done comparing dick size, or do you want to throw down and naked wrestle?” Dean asked. He brought his hands out from his jacket and crossed his arms. “Because right now you two look like you’re having the most disturbing courtship ritual I’ve seen outside of hentai-style porn.”

Benny took a step back. “Lizzy’s a human.”

“So’s this one,” Spike said as he poked a thumb toward Dean. “For that matter, Harris was a human when he pulled his most spectacularly stupid moves like trying to take on a two hundred year old master vampire. Like the boy told you earlier, human doesn’t mean weak. Hell, seems like in this universe, vampires are an endangered species.”

“This universe?” Dean jumped on the two words. “This universe as opposed to the fictional world that you were dreamed out of or maybe Purgatory?”

“Boy came through Purgatory, but we’re from an alternate reality. Different monsters, different rules, vampires who aren’t on the verge of going extinct because they have the survival instincts of lemmings,” Spike gave Benny a nasty smile.

Dean gave a quick laugh. “And you expect us to believe that?”

“I don’t bloody care. You can go and ruin your own life if you want,” Spike said.

“Then why ask about me and Sam?” Dean was on the offense now.

“Actually, that was me,” Xander said, raising his hand. “Xander Harris,” he said as he stepped forward to offer a handshake, but that ended in a yelp as Spike jerked him back so that Xander was one step safely behind him. “Overprotective much?” Xander asked.

“Yep,” Spike agreed, his fingers tightening more on Xander’s arm. “I can go and get the leash if you’re going to make a fuss about it.”

“No. Overprotective good. I mean, have you met Willow? There’s a picture of her next to overprotective in the dictionary. Literally. I glued it there in tenth grade.”

Spike rolled his eyes.

“So, is this show for me? Because after all the flirting with Benny, you’re making him jealous.”

“Dean,” Benny warned softly.

“Might want to tread softly, luv,” Spike suggested. “For most… monsters… fighting and figuring out who has the bigger wrinklies is the first step in a courtship. Depending on whether someone seems weak, step two would be shoving them down and buggering them.”

“But… really?” Dean looked over at Benny, and he just shrugged. Dean wrinkled up his nose. “Okay, that’s just wrong. How am I supposed to fight with Sammy after that?”

“You’re not monsters,” Benny said.

Dean snorted.

“Hey,” Xander said, jumping in before this conversation could get any worse, because it was not off to a stellar start to begin with. “In my world, there’s one girl in all the world who has all the power to fight demons, and mostly the girls are expected to fight alone. That sounds a little like you and Sam getting stuck with the demon hunting gig when you don’t really have much support. I mean, I read the books so I know Bobby does a lot—”

“He’s dead,” Dean said sharply.

Xander’s mouth was open, but he couldn’t get sound out. Bobby was dead. Bobby. Father figure Bobby who fixed everything. The Giles to their Buffy. Xander felt the news like a punch to the gut, and Spike tugged him closer and put his arm back around Xander’s waist rather than continuing to leave finger bruises on Xander’s arm.

Dean turned around and started back toward the car. “I don’t have time for this.”

“No! Wait,” Xander pulled against Spike’s hold and tried to chase him, but suddenly Benny was there, snarling. Spike leaped forward, and shoved at Benny, sending him stumbling back, and then Dean whirled around, a machete in his hand before Xander could blink.

Spike turned to face off against Dean, and Benny leaped forward, hands curled into claws. Spike had to turn and face him, and then Dean was moving, machete held high.

“NO!” Xander bellowed, and he felt something like a bandage getting ripped off, only it felt like it was getting ripped off his guts. Heat flashed through him, and he dropped to one knee, but that wasn’t all that much of a problem because Spike, Dean, and Benny were all out cold. Dean’s body was crumpled next to a Dean sized dent in his car, Benny was tangled in the remains of a motorcycle, and Spike was collapsed under a tree on the far side of the parking lot. And car alarms were going off. A lot of them.

“Shit,” Xander said softly to himself. Spike was so killing him.

“What the fuck is going on out there?” Some man yelled from one of the other hotel rooms.

“Drunk guys. Passed out drunk guys,” Xander yelled back.

“Then shut the fuck up,” the guy answered.

“Oh, they’re shut up,” Xander said to himself. He could see their lifeforce—even Spike’s and Benny’s, although theirs were a little more plastered on instead of growing from inside. So all three were alive or at least the walking undead. When Spike woke up, Xander was not going to be that lucky. “Let’s get you guys inside,” Xander said. Feeling like an idiot… an idiot with no control over randomly sprouting powers no less… Xander headed over to Spike. “And after that, I am definitely going to need to feed,” he admitted as he struggled to get an arm under Spike and lift him.

Yep. Just perfect.

Part Thirty-Four

Xander slipped back in the hotel room after his hunt. If he had to throw away all his energy, doing it near a swamp was pretty handy. Swamps had way more life in them than Xander thought. Of course, a chunk of swamp now had significantly less life, and Xander didn’t feel even a little bit guilty about taking out a half dozen birds, several dozen frogs, two alligators, and a boatload of insects. The world could live without any of them, and Xander’s legs no longer felt shaky. Of course the six rotisserie chickens and dozen bags of chips he’d bought from the all night supermarket helped too.

Locking the hotel door behind him, he checked on the others. Spike was on one bed with a very tied up Dean on the other one. Xander let his hand rest on Spike’s shoulder for a second. Really listening, he could almost hear the life hear the rustling of the life force under his hand. And honestly, he was pretty sure he was totally hallucinating things at this point, but Spike wasn’t dust, so he would recover.

Benny was on the floor between the beds, and Xander had used their heaviest shackles on the other vampire. Again, Xander could sense the lifeforce, but he didn’t seem in a hurry to wake up.

“I don’t entirely like this new power,” Xander muttered as he moved over to check on Dean. Being that he was the human and that he’d had a pretty up close and brutal encounter with a car door, Xander worried most about him. Of course that didn’t keep him from tying Dean up hand and foot. When Xander put his hand on Dean’s shoulder, he could feel something shifting under his hand. Xander watched as Dean stirred. However, after a second, he went completely still, so he was awake.

"Morning," Xander said. It actually was morning, but Dean had only been out of it for about two or three hours.

After a second, a wary green eye opened. Xander gave Dean some time, watching as he strained at the ropes, testing their strength. He was out of luck if he thought he could get away. After getting stuck babysitting a tied up Oz, a tied up Spike, a tied up Andrew, and then a tied up Spike again, he was kind of good at making sure that people stayed put.

Xander started getting uncomfortable as the silence went on too long. Dean had long since given up on escaping, but he was still watching. "I'm really sorry about the whole knocking you out thing. I really didn't know that would happen, which still doesn't make it right. Are you okay?"

With his hands cuffed behind his back, Dean rolled awkwardly onto his side. "So you knocked me out by accident?"

"Kinda." Xander stepped over Benny and sat on the bed with Spike.

Dean was giving him a pretty incredulous look. "And did you tie me up by accident?"

"Hey. Justified here. You kill people like me."

"You're not people,” Dean shot right back.

Xander frowned. "Okay, that's kinda true, but that doesn't mean that you can just kill me. I'm a good guy. Good guy."

"Who goes around knocking people out and then tying them up," Dean added.

That made Xander wilt just a little bit. After reading all the books, Xander liked Dean. Okay, so he’d been a little bit of an asshole in the beginning, pulling Sam away from the one life where he really fit, but still. Xander liked him. Being an asshole didn’t actually disqualify someone from the likeable category. Actually, most of Xander’s male friends actually were assholes. "For someone who's tied up, you really do complain a little too much."

"Funny enough, you're not the first person to say that. So, what's the plan here? Eat the captive? Human sacrifice? I have to warn you, I haven't been a virgin since sixth grade and Mrs. Reynolds." Dean have him a completely inappropriate grin.

"Thank you for creeping me out."

"I creeped out the monster. Cut me loose, and I’ll add that to my diary.” Dean rolled his eyes. “You know, my baby better be okay or there won't be a corner of the world that I won't find you."

Xander’s stomach dropped. "You have a baby?” He leaped to his feet, the need to start searching already making him twitchy. “Crap. How old? Where I can find him. Wait, is it a him?" Xander felt panic roll through him. How long could a baby survive alone, especially when he was near hunters who tended to attract bad guys. Dean was still staring at him like Xander had stopped speaking English, which wasn’t entirely impossible. “I’m not going to kill a baby. I mean, I haven’t killed you or Benny, and right now you two are pretty high on the annoyance list. But you can’t leave a baby out there. Tell me where to find him. Or her. Whatever.”

Dean spoke the his words slowly, enunciating each. "It's an Impala."

Xander frowned. Maybe that was a type of demon, and if Dean had a demon baby, Xander was not asking any questions, not with his own history with demon women. He might have developed a raging case of misogyny only women had just as much trouble with demon men. Human Darla and Dru and that delinquent girl who had to plan parent-teacher night with Buffy probably spent just as much time talking crap about crappy demon men. "Okay..." Xander let the word trail off.

"My car," Dean snapped. "My car had better be okay."

Xander cringed.

"What did you do?" Dean demanded, arching up off the bed.

"Nothing!" Xander slowly sank back down onto the best. He was really not looking forward to Dean seeing the huge dent in the passenger side door.

"That face is not nothing. That face is getting caught looking at porn by your teacher when you aren't old enough to just invite her to look at it with you."

"You know, you're oddly obsessed with porn,” Xander pointed out.

For a second, Dean almost looked surprised or maybe embarrassed. It was hard to tell. "It's been too long since I got laid,” he said in a totally flat voice.

"Okay, that's disturbing. And I didn't do anything to your car. Technically. Technically, you dented it."

"I dented it?”

"When I threw you into it," Xander admitted. "But in the books you're into car repair so technically that's good news because it gives you a reason to work on the car."

Dean rolled back onto his stomach and pressed his face to the pillow for a second. Only a second. Then he faced Xander again. "You're a little on the dumb side, aren't you?"

"Possibly."

"Well then, let me use little words. Why did you tie me up?"

"So you didn't kill me?"

“You could have avoided that by not attacking.”

“You attacked us.”

“Are you kidding? You came after us.”

“No we didn’t. Benny tried to jump on me.”

“You tried to jump me when I turned my back,” Dean shot right back.

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Says who?”

“Says me, and since I wasn’t trying to jump on you, and I’m the expert on me, then I’m the expert on me not jumping people.”

“Bloody hell,” Spike groaned as he pulled his arms over his head. “Pet, I’m gagging you as soon as I can crawl off this bed and find the bloody gag.”

“That’s the best idea I’ve heard for a while.” Dean offered.

Spike pushed himself up so fast that Xander nearly slipped off the bed. The second Spike noticed Dean tied up, his alarm faded and his yellow eyes faded back to blue.

“Right then, so it wasn’t the Winchester morons that took me out. That leaves you.” Spike turned his glare toward Xander.

“By accident. I took you out by accident,” Xander explained. Spike kept staring so long and so viciously that Xander slid off the bed and was going to move to one of the chairs, only Spike caught his wrist and pulled him close.

“You took me out by accident?” Spike sounded not happy.

“I think I blasted you with energy, not that I’m exactly sure. I was a little upset.”

Spike sighed and rested his forehead on Xander’s back. “Remind me to pick up some valium.”

“I’m really hoping that’s a joke,” Xander said softly. Spike lifted his head and looked Xander right in the eye long enough to make it clear that he wasn’t joking.

“So, are you always this pathetically submissive, or is this a show for me?”

“Nope, I’m always this pathetically submissive,” Xander answered. He kept his poker face on as his words knocked the air right out of Dean and his insults. Xander had learned a long time ago that the best way to take the sting out of other people’s insults was to agree with them… or even make a joke out of himself first. Xander had dealt with bullies way meaner than Dean could dream of, so one little mostly honest comment about submissiveness wasn’t going to bother him.

“Insult him again, and he won’t be wearing the gag,” Spike warned before he focused back on Xander. “Now luv, how’s your energy?”

“I ate enough food for a village, and after traveling through some of the poorer parts of African I can say that the amount of chicken I ate today would have literally fed some villages. I then went into the swamp and created a little death zone, and now I feel fine.”

“Death zone?” Dean demanded. “For someone who keeps trying to claim that he’s a good guy, you have a strange vocabulary.”

Xander snorted. “Have you listened to yourself lately? You’re not exactly ready for prime time. Seriously, how many times can you make porn references?”

“Me? You’re the one who looks like he’s about to crawl down a vampire’s pants.” Dean made a point of looked at where Spike’s hands were on Xander’s hips. “And you won’t even answer when I want to know if I’m the human sacrifice for whatever game you’re playing, so you don’t get to play the innocent here. And by the way, I’m harder to kill than I look. And yes, I know that tied up I look easy to kill, but monsters bigger than you have tried and failed.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake. We’re not killing you,” Spike interrupted before Xander could go off on the idea of failure. “We came here to try and get you some help because this idiot thought you deserved more than a swift kick on the arse when you were off saving the world. Now,” Spike said focusing on Xander, “do you have enough blood to share? I’m too peckish to put up with your shite.”

Xander nodded and tipped his head a little to the side. Dean started making kissy noises at him. As much as Xander had loved Dean in the books, in real life he was considerably more annoying. Ignoring Dean, Spike slid his arm around Xander and then sank his fangs into Xander’s shoulder.

Xander let his head fall back and relaxed into the weird sense of joining that he always got when Spike fed. It was like he could feel himself sliding free of his body and merging with Spike.

“And he complains about me and porn?” Dean muttered, but he did it loud enough that if someone had been hiding in the bathroom, they still would have been able to hear it. Yep, annoying.

Spike lifted his head, and Xander blinked. At the moment that Spike stopped, he always felt off balance, like he had to hold onto something or risk falling off the ground.

“So, is it my turn?” Dean asked, and now there was a barely disguised panic in his voice.

“Not unless you volunteer a little,” Spike said. He seemed to be ignoring the panic, and Xander tried to concentrate on their conversation. He didn’t have his balance back yet, and Spike stroked his side in a way that made Xander want to curl up and sleep, so it wasn’t easy. “I feed from Xander because he can spare it, and most times he gets his own energy by eating like a bloody horse.”

“I don’t eat plants, not even vegetables,” Xander pointed out. “Unless they’re tomatoes and made into tomato sauce for a pizza. That is the only reasonable exception to the vegetable rule.”

“Right then, you just eat like a fifteen year old boy.”

“Oddly accurate,” Xander agreed. He grabbed Spike’s wrist so that he would stop with the petting before Xander actually did fall asleep.

“Right, because you’re good monsters. That’s not actually the first time I’ve heard that line. It always ends with someone going to hell.”

Spike looked at Xander. “It’s your call, pet. We can give him the information or we can walk away and save Red the trouble of having to deal with the wanker.”

“I resemble that remark,” Dean said. “Often. Ambidextrously even.”

Spike glared at him.

Xander didn’t want to torture Willow. Yeah, this Willow was a little annoying and needed someone to kick her ass, but sending Dean her way felt a little like having the mayor eat Principal Snyder. Justified, yes. Satisfying, a little bit. However, it was overkill to a pretty serious degree. On the other side, Willow had a whole support network of military people with really big guns. That could have come in handy in a whole bunch of the books Xander had read. Maybe if Dean had people to back him up, he could have either save Sam from that first death or had someone to point out that selling yourself to hell was a bad plan. That was the sort of plan that made Spike look like a planning genius.

“Look,” Xander said firmly before he could change his mind. “The military is actually trying to keep Earth out of the middle of a war with two slightly assholish alien species. And clearly this is a huge military secret, and I wouldn’t know it except that the branch of the military that deals with the aliens knows about demons. So we got an… okay, they kidnapped us,” Xander said when Spike’s fingers pressed into his thigh. “They trusted us about as much as you do.”

“Smart people,” Dean said.

“Not really,” Spike offered. “They thought that hell was only dangerous for those stupid enough to trade their souls away. It seems like the end of the world slipped right by them.”

“Then they really aren’t that smart. However, I still don’t see why that leads to me getting tied up in a vampire lair.”

“You’re here because you and yours made an aggressive move toward my boy,” Spike said firmly.

“See, I told you that you started it,” Xander said.

“He didn’t. You did,” Spike disagreed. “When he turned away, you tried to pull him back. Knowing you the way I do, you only meant to talk, but he couldn’t know that, and you’re too soddin’ used to people discounting you as a fighter.” Spike tugged on one of Xander’s curls. “But I don’t care if he sprouts wings and starts beating on you with a rusted tire iron. You lift one finger in return, and I’ll take you out,” Spike threatened Dean.

Instead of looking cowed, Dean smirked. “Aw. It’s monster love. Can you do the balcony scene now?”

Spike blinked at him.

“No? Maybe you can skip right to the bow-chika-wow-wow.”

Spike stood up and headed for the bathroom muttering about being too grubby to deal with assholes. Dean watched him go, his body twisting around on the bed until Spike closed the bathroom door. Then he turned his attention back to Xander.

“You really think we’re going to kill you, don’t you?” Xander asked. The only times he got this assholish were with monsters like Angelus who had personal reasons to hate and kill Xander. Otherwise, he didn’t bother poking the bad guys. He just waited until they were focused on Buffy and then staked them in the back.

“I think you’re going to try,” Dean agreed. “I don’t actually think you’re monster enough to finish the job.”

“I don’t think I am either,” Xander said. “Killing is not my thing.”

“Because you’re a good monster. Rainbows come out your ass when you fart and you ride unicorns during the full moon,” Dean finished with a knowing nod. He really was a pain in the ass.

“I was pretty much you until two or three months ago,” Xander said. He could hear the shower go on in the other room.

“Oh, here’s where you convince me that it’s in my best interest to help you. Okay. Give it your best shot, Sport.” Dean wiggled around like he was settling in for a long story.

“Buffy, my best friend, is the slayer, the one girl in all the world who has the power to protect the world from all the baddies, which is not to say the rest of us don’t fight, but Buffy is pretty much the one who gets the job done while the rest of us are flailing.”

“So you’re exactly like me except you’re incompetent,” Dean summarized. Xander made a conscious decision to ignore the heckling.

“And she has killed gods and demons and monsters, oh my. She kicks ass, and mostly I’m there to do damage control. I staked a few vampires, tripped a few monsters. One time, I actually threw glitter. It’s all I could grab, and the vampire was going at Buffy’s back when she was fighting three other vampires. It distracted him long enough for her to do her spin and quip and stake routine. And Edward Cullen jokes were had by all.”

“Edward Cullen?”

“Nevermind. I come from one of those alternate realities where God tortures us with bad fiction. But the point is that I was a fighter of good, and maybe not a great fighter of good, but I was right there when the fights were won. Only I took a few hits, and one was a big magical hit. So when one of the old big-bads went looking for someone she could monsterfy, Eve picked me.”

“Eve?” Up to this point, Dean had watched with the sort of expectant expression that usually meant someone was waiting for a chance to make fun of Xander. Now his expression turned serious. “What do you know about Eve?”

“I know you poisoned her with Phoenix ash and she couldn’t make more monsters. She pulled me out of my reality because one of those fights that I was there for left me with a big pool of not-nice magical energy sloshing around inside me. So if I don’t have a lot of control, it’s because I genuinely don’t have a lot of control.”

“Eve made you?” Dean studied Xander much more carefully now.

“Yes, that makes me an alpha or an alph or an ox, depending on which language you use to describe me. And that’s why Spike sits on me so much because he’s not willing to let me get all toppy or, more likely, all stupid, with all this power I have.

Dean actually looked shaken. “An alpha?”

“Who has philosophical differences with his monster mother,” Xander added. “She wants monsters to hunt humans. I pretty much have always been on the side of humans hunting monsters.”

“And now?” Dean asked sharply. “If all this is true, do you want to hunt humans? Drink them down? Feel their power soak into your body as you feed on them?”

“Weirdly specific,” Xander said. Dean had a real talent for creeping him out.

Dean grimaced. “I got turned once. I held the hunger off until we could take out the vamp who had turned me and use a spell to give me back my humanity, but I remember. I know how—when you’re first turned—the draw of the blood sings to you.”

“Pretty much the smell of chocolate sings to me, but most humans are definitely non-chocolately. Now leviathans? Oh yeah. Don’t tell Spike, but if I smelled a leviathan right now, I’m not taking any bets on how long I could avoid going after it.”

“You hunt leviathan?”

“The one I found, and trust me, if you know where more are, I am happy to eat any more you can find. But the difference is that I wasn’t turned. Eve used the energy I already had inside of me. I have always been, if not exactly a hunter, a helper of hunters who fixed things that the hunters either broke or didn’t have time to do. Give me a backed up toilet, broken door, a quest for something lost or a weapon that needs cleaning, and I’m like a California girl in a sushi shop. I eat it up. But I had help. I had Giles to do the fathering thing and Willow to be the friend and doer of mojo, and Buffy to be the ass-kicker, and Tara to put on band-aids and kiss scraped elbows, and Oz to get all philosophical, and Anya to…” Xander swallowed as he thought about her smiling face. He couldn’t talk about her, not with someone who was barely out of the enemy category. “And I had Spike to kick ass while threatening me.”

“A vampire.” That flat tone was back in Dean’s voice.

“Funny enough, I wasn’t the only one who came with a vampire.”

“Benny has proved himself. He got me out of purgatory, and he’s not on human blood anymore.” From the cold tone in Dean’s voice, Xander had hit a sore spot.

“Spike earned his soul back, and when a bad guy had me by the neck, he saved me. He even stood in the opening of a hellmouth and used his own soul to fuel a weapon that saved our world. He died. He died and went to hell, and we barely got him back. He has proved himself just as much as Benny.”

Dean stared at him, and Xander looked back, willing the man to believe him. If the good guys couldn’t or wouldn’t work together, the bad guys were always going to win in the end. Xander believed that. That’s why so many slayers died by the age of sixteen. Humans were not designed to fight alone.

“And you want to… what? Join my merry band?”

“You are short a Friar Tuck,” Xander pointed out with a small smile. Dean just stared at him. “The government group that knows about demons—they know about you and they would help you if they could. They could run interference with local law enforcement or send out backup if you got in trouble.”

“Or throw me in a cell or simply kill me.”

Xander shook his head. “They didn’t kill me. They scared me… they scared me the way you did, and things ended up slightly not of the good, but they had more backup so they weren’t the ones who ended up in cuffs.”

“They captured you?” Dean sounded interested now.

Xander nodded. “And they weren’t thrilled. We were there for a long time before someone attacked and we escaped in the chaos, but that’s because they don’t trust monsters. I wouldn’t recommend that you introduce them to Benny.”

Dean laughed. “I figured that. Unlike some people, I haven’t knocked all my brain cells loose. Not yet, anyway.”

Xander was going to make fun of himself again, only Benny started to stir.

“Benny, are you okay?” Dean wiggled closer to the edge of the bed. Neither Dean nor Xander was prepared when Benny let out a low moan and then lurched up to his knees, his sharp teeth extended as he snapped at them. One bite came dangerously close to Xander’s knee before Xander could scramble backwards.

“Spike!” Xander bellowed as he looked at the empty hunger in Benny’s eyes.

Twisting around, Benny saw Dean and threw himself toward the other bed with a roar.

Part Thirty-Five

With Dean tied up, Xander felt a need to step in between. Benny got his feet on the ground and rocked forward, tipping toward Xander… and Dean, who was now cursing behind him. However, the second Benny’s shoulder brushed up against Xander, he threw himself backwards. Spike barreled into the room, a murderous expression on his face. He took one look at Benny and stopped.

“What the bloody hell? How long’s it been since he ate?” Spike demanded.

Benny snarled in his direction, and Spike growled back at him. That shut him up.

“Spike, fix this,” Xander said. The sound of Xander’s voice made Benny scoot backward, digging the heels of his boots into the mattress to scoot away from Xander. “Okay, that’s new. Usually the vampires try to eat me.”

“You’re a nummy treat,” Spike said absent-mindedly.

“I said that once. Once. You could drop it.”

“Or not,” Spike said with a shrug.

“Can you two do the old married act later?” Dean asked. “Untie me. Let me help him.”

“Right.” Spike snorted. “Like that’s going to happen. Besides, you get near him, and he’s going to drink you down like a pint. That’s raw bloodlust.”

Xander started talking. “I could—”

“Don't think it, Harris.”

“What? Why? You feed from me,” Xander snapped. Behind him, Dean muttered something under his breath.

When Spike turned to look at Xander, his eyes were yellow. “Yeah, and another vampire isn't.”

“What, don't you share your toys with the other kids?” Dean asked in an annoyingly cheerful voice. Benny’s head came up and he sniffed the air.

“No.” Spike said firmly, giving Xander a hard glare.

After rolling his eyes, Xander turned to look at Dean. “Embarrassing him into playing nice is not a good strategy. First, he doesn't embarrass. Second, he doesn't play nice. What sort of blood do we need to get? There are alligators. They should have a lot of blood.” Xander shifted his attention to Spike.

He was already shaking his head. “Unless you truly hate the man, alligator blood isn't going to work.”

“Okay, Spike, in case you haven't noticed, that seems to be a little past just hungry. We need to get him something.”

Benny had backed up into the corner of the room. Knees pulled in under him, he scanned the room and breathed deeply. He really looked like a starving wolf ready to pounce on something, and if his hands weren’t tied, he would definitely be trying to eat one of them. Of course with those teeth, he looked like a wolf in need of braces, but still… there was a predatory desperation there that made the hairs on the back of Xander’s neck stand up.

“That's the sort of blood lust most pledges wake up feeling. He’s not dying.”

Dean gave a rough laugh. “I’m ringing the bullshit bell on that one. I woke up as a vampire once. I wasn’t that hungry.”

“But…” Xander stopped and tried to figure out if there was a joke in there somewhere. If there was, he wasn’t seeing it. “If you woke up a vampire, that would mean you’re still a vampire, only you’re not. Ergo, you never were.”

“Just a hint, but using the word ‘ergo’ doesn’t actually make you sound smarter. Or even smart.”

Benny used his shoulder to push himself halfway up off the floor.

“Pet, scare the shite out of this one,” Spike said as he headed over toward Dean.

“Hey, no breaking the humans,” Xander protested, but he did it as he headed for Benny. Sure enough, the vampire cringed back away from him. Xander had always thought that intimidation was a pretty cool superpower. The reality was a lot less fun. The reality felt a little bit like being a bully or having a hyena in him, and Xander was not a fan of either.

“Now, you listen good, mate.” Spike leaned against the edge of the bed, bending over until he rested his hands right next to Dean’s prone body. Xander opened his mouth to yell out a warning just as Dean brought his knees up—aimed straight at Spike’s nose. Before Xander could get a word out, Spike’s hand darted out and grabbed Dean by the crotch. Xander hissed in sympathy as Dean utterly froze. “You listenin’?” Spike asked.

“I don’t swing that way, blondie.”

“As long as you have a hole, most monsters don’t much care, and if you don’t have a hole, it’s easy enough to make one.”

“And this is your ‘monsters can be good’ speech?” Dean gave a thready laugh. “You need to work on the spiel before you take it on the road.”

“Monsters can be good. Most aren’t,” Spike said.

“Officially not with the helping,” Xander complained softly, but Spike barely even flicked him a glance before focusing on Dean again.

“But we’re not from this universe. Your bloody mother of all monsters dragged us here when she got some hare up her ass. So maybe this world doesn’t have monsters that’d rather see the world keep right on spinning, but I suspect it does. I suspect you’ve met more than a few yourself, otherwise you wouldn’t be willing to cut Benny over there some slack.”

Dean had clenched his jaw shut.

“Lots of monsters just want to keep on doing what they do. That’s true here or you would be doing a lot more protesting. Now, can you lot cure vampirism? Were you a vamp? I don’t bloody know or care, but if you don’t keep a respectful tone in your voice when you talk to me and my boy, you’re going to find out how a monster keeps control of a situation.”

“Right. Play nice or it’s rape and torture time?” Dean asked. “Newsflash. I went to hell. You don’t have anything on Alistair. You couldn’t lick his boots.”

“I’ve been to hell too, luv. It’s not a place a place for heroes who put their lives on the line to save the masses of great unwashed. And you can ask the boy what bringing you in line would include, but when I get back, you’d better have a more civil tongue in that mouth.”

Spike stood up, and walked to the end of the bed, Dean’s wary gaze on him. “You forgot to threaten to rip my tongue out,” Dean said.

“I don’t make idle threats, pet. If I make a threat, I follow through. Since I happen to think you’re one of the good ones, I wouldn’t rip out your tongue, so I won’t make the threat. However, keep talking like that, and I will make you sorry you were born,” Spike looked Dean up and down and slowly smiled, and Xander felt a cold shiver go up his spine.

“Spike?” Xander asked softly, almost afraid to interrupt the tension humming through the air.

Spike gave a sniff and turned toward Benny. “Human blood is best to sate a blind hunger like this, but any blood of a mammal will work in a pinch. Does he normally drink animal?"

It took Dean a long time to answer. "Normally he drinks animal blood out of bags, but he’s raided a few hospitals when he had a serious injury. He thinks I don’t know, though."

Spike nodded. "He needs human then, at least some of the time. But if he's settled, he can't afford to take too much from a hospital. Some hunter would notice.”

That edge of smirk returned to Dean’s expression. “Hunters usually look for people turning up dead, not blood going missing from a hospital.”

“Right, and all hunters are morally upstanding human beings who never target harmless creatures or vampires who've given up feeding,” Spike said with just as much sarcasm. Xander felt an uncomfortable shifting in his stomach, a hard-to-identify discomfort with this back and forth sniping. He didn’t exactly worry that Spike would kill Dean, but there was an undercurrent of unhappy that Spike would do something. Xander just didn’t know what the something was that he was fearing.

“We can argue about that later,” Xander said, focusing on the room and the hungry vampire rather than his own tangled knot of troubled emotions. “Right now, you need to help Benny.”

Spike kept his gaze on Dean. “We could turn him loose. He'd have a blood donor all tied up and ready.”

“Spike," Xander warned darkly.

He sighed. "Don't get your knickers in a twist, luv. You keep an eye on that one. I'll go try and find some blood. Do not try feeding him.” Spike poked a finger in Xander’s general direction on that last order.

“Spike, I don't want to be within six feet of him. That makes feeding him a little hard.”

“Keep it that way." Spike gave them a last look before heading for the door. When the door slammed, Benny snarled and started to push himself out of the corner.

"Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no." Xander made eye contact with Benny. Panicked and unwilling eye contact, but that was enough to drove Benny back to his corner.

Dean squirmed around until he could swing his legs off the bed and awkwardly sit up. "Okay, untie me quick."

“Are you crazy?”

“That's debatable. Now untie me before you cranky friend comes back”

“Um... NO!”

A look of perfect frustration darted across Dean’s face. “Look. Benny is not your problem. Untie me and help me get him to the car, and I'll even forgive you for denting in the side of my precious.”

“Precious?”

“It's the most reasonable solution,” Dean went on.

“How are you defining reasonable?” Xander held up his hand to stop Dean from answering. "Nevermind. I've read the books, so can I just say that your definition is a little less definitional than it is completely and entirely obsessive? Reasonable does not mean you have to do everything yourself. We’re waiting for Spike to get back with blood. And maybe help.”

“Don't pretend that you know me just because you've read those books. God I hate those things. If I had known what Chuck was doing before he put that first book out, I would have shoved him into a really small barrel and sent him over Niagara Falls.” Dean dropped his head back down to the pillow and stared at the ceiling.

“Don't assume that I don't get it. Hey, I was the all-human sidekick of my demon hunting crew. No magic, no slayer strength, no anything but too damn much stubbornness to die when I should have. So don't assume I don't know what it's like.”

“Right. You're just like me. Blah, blah, blah.” Dean rolled his eyes and then shifted onto his shoulder so that he gave Xander a nice view of his back. Xander wasn’t fooled. He figured Dean was coming up with a million way to escape using hotel sheets. However, this situation was so far out of control that Xander wasn’t sure how to fix any of it. He’d just wanted to meet Sam and Dean—to give them some help to get out of the hole they seemed to live in. Yeah, he’d done a great job. With Dean tied up on the bed nearest the bathroom and Benny cringing in the corner under the air conditioner, Xander settled himself in a chair next to the door and prepared to wait. A fun time was not had by all. Xander figured if Spike didn’t hurry, the hatred in the room was going to reach critical mass and spontaneously explode.




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